The best books that defy the tired narrative of early revolutionary Cuba

Who am I?

As the eldest daughter raised in an Evangelical home in rural Pennsylvania, I was immersed in normative, Anglo notions of gender and the family. I built on this embodied experience to cultivate expertise in discourse about the family and labor in early revolutionary Cuba. Perhaps surprisingly, the celebration of patriarchy, monogamy, and heterosexuality that bracketed my youth was also an important element of Cuban revolutionary discourse of the 1960s—albeit within a very different context. I received my PhD in Latin American and Caribbean History from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Dartmouth College. I am now an independent scholar.


I wrote...

Laboring for the State: Women, Family, and Work in Revolutionary Cuba, 1959–1971

By Rachel Hynson,

Book cover of Laboring for the State: Women, Family, and Work in Revolutionary Cuba, 1959–1971

What is my book about?

Contrary to claims that socialism opposed the family unit, my book argues that the revolutionary Cuban government engaged in social engineering to redefine the nuclear family and organize citizens to serve the state. It reveals that increasingly throughout the 1960s, revolutionary citizenship was earned through labor. While men were to work outside the home in state-approved jobs, women found their citizenship tied to affording the state control over their reproduction and sexual labor. 

Through all four campaigns examined—the projects to control women's reproduction, promote marriage, end prostitution, and compel men into state-sanctioned employment—the book shows that the state's progression toward authoritarianism and its attendant monopolization of morality were met with resistance and counter-narratives by ordinary citizens who opposed the mandates of these campaigns.

The books I picked & why

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Visions of Power in Cuba: Revolution, Redemption, and Resistance, 1959-1971

By Lillian Guerra,

Book cover of Visions of Power in Cuba: Revolution, Redemption, and Resistance, 1959-1971

Why this book?

This transformative book explores the early years of the Cuban Revolution from the ground up, arguing that revolutionary leadership constructed hegemony gradually—gaining popular support by creating a “grand narrative” that envisioned the Revolution as an opportunity for spiritual and political redemption. Guerra shows that leaders also censured alternative narratives and voices that challenged their monopoly over power. And because government organizations deputized citizens to defend the state, they inadvertently created “unintended dissidents,” as well as vast numbers of supporters. These arguments and more make this exceptional book a controversial one as well.  

Visions of Power in Cuba: Revolution, Redemption, and Resistance, 1959-1971

By Lillian Guerra,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Visions of Power in Cuba as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the tumultuous first decade of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro and other leaders saturated the media with altruistic images of themselves in a campaign to win the hearts of Cuba's six million citizens. In Visions of Power in Cuba, Lillian Guerra argues that these visual representations explained rapidly occurring events and encouraged radical change and mutual self-sacrifice.
Mass rallies and labor mobilizations of unprecedented scale produced tangible evidence of what Fidel Castro called ""unanimous support"" for a revolution whose ""moral power"" defied U.S. control. Yet participation in state-orchestrated spectacles quickly became a requirement for political inclusion in a new…


The Revolution Is for the Children: The Politics of Childhood in Havana and Miami, 1959-1962

By Anita Casavantes Bradford,

Book cover of The Revolution Is for the Children: The Politics of Childhood in Havana and Miami, 1959-1962

Why this book?

In her book, Casavantes Bradford reveals the centrality of children to Cuban national projects during the first four years of the Revolution. The book chronicles how the exile community and the revolutionary government both harnessed the discourse of childhood and actual children in service to divergent political goals. The Revolution Is for the Children is provocative not just because it is the first to identify children as historical actors in twentieth-century Cuba but also because it lays the foundation for future scholarship on family and migration in Cuban history.  

The Revolution Is for the Children: The Politics of Childhood in Havana and Miami, 1959-1962

By Anita Casavantes Bradford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Revolution Is for the Children as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since 1959, the Cuban revolutionary government has proudly proclaimed that ""the revolution is for the children."" Many Cuban Americans reject this claim, asserting that they chose exile in the United States to protect their children from the evils of ""Castro-communism."" Anita Casavantes Bradford's analysis of the pivotal years between the Revolution's triumph and the 1962 Missile Crisis uncovers how and when children were first pressed into political service by ideologically opposed Cuban communities on both sides of the Florida Straits.

Casavantes Bradford argues that, in Havana, the Castro government deployed a morally charged ""politics of childhood"" to steer a nationalist…


Revolution within the Revolution: Women and Gender Politics in Cuba, 1952-1962

By Michelle Chase,

Book cover of Revolution within the Revolution: Women and Gender Politics in Cuba, 1952-1962

Why this book?

Chase illuminates for readers the central role played by women in the Revolution, from the urban insurrection and political activism of the 1950s to mobilization for women’s rights in the early 1960s. This book rejects assertations made by leaders, such as Fidel Castro, that men initiated women into activism and that the Revolution rescued women from oppression. The book instead emphasizes how women organized to make public demands and even sometimes convinced reticent leadership to accede to their proposals. Most exciting to me is the final chapter on dueling efforts to fortify the family, as Chase demonstrates how revolutionary supporters and opponents each rested “their political authority in claims that they best protected the family” (p. 14).

Revolution within the Revolution: Women and Gender Politics in Cuba, 1952-1962

By Michelle Chase,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Revolution within the Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A handful of celebrated photographs show armed, fatigues-clad female Cuban insurgents alongside their companeros in Cuba's remote mountains during the revolutionary struggle. However, the story of women's part in the struggle's success only now receives comprehensive consideration in Michelle Chase's history of women and gender politics in revolutionary Cuba. Restoring to history women's participation in the all-important urban insurrection, and resisting Fidel Castro's triumphant claim that women's emancipation was handed to them as a ""revolution within the revolution,"" Chase's work demonstrates that women's activism and leadership was critical at every stage of the revolutionary process.

Tracing changes in political attitudes…


Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution

By Devyn Spence Benson,

Book cover of Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution

Why this book?

This refreshing book uncovers the reality behind Cuba’s so-called raceless Revolution. Benson traces early, state-led campaigns against racism, both their accomplishments and missteps. She reveals that in response to the new government’s claims to have eradicated racial discrimination, some Afro-Cubans rejected this Pollyanna rhetoric and mobilized for true racial equality. But Benson doesn’t just examine domestic racial policies and debates; she also delves into transnational exchanges between Cubans, exiled Cubans, and African Americans—rightfully situating Afro-Cubans within postcolonial, global movements against anti-Blackness. 

Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution

By Devyn Spence Benson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Antiracism in Cuba as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Analyzing the ideology and rhetoric around race in Cuba and south Florida during the early years of the Cuban revolution, Devyn Spence Benson argues that ideas, stereotypes, and discriminatory practices relating to racial difference persisted despite major efforts by the Cuban state to generate social equality. Drawing on Cuban and U.S. archival materials and face-to-face interviews, Benson examines 1960s government programs and campaigns against discrimination, showing how such programs frequently negated their efforts by reproducing racist images and idioms in revolutionary propaganda, cartoons, and school materials.

Building on nineteenth-century discourses that imagined Cuba as a raceless space, revolutionary leaders embraced…


The Revolution from Within: Cuba, 1959–1980

By Michael J. Bustamante (editor), Jennifer L. Lambe (editor),

Book cover of The Revolution from Within: Cuba, 1959–1980

Why this book?

This elegant, edited volume—with contributions from historians across North America, Cuba, and the UK—takes a Cuba-centric approach to the Revolution. The contributors confront and challenge triumphalist narratives about the period and refuse to situate 1959 as a definitive moment of rupture. The chapters explore a range of subjects, including material culture, dance, the Mariel boatlift, and the archive itself to reveal how a variety of actors have perceived and responded to state power. No less impressive is the Introduction, which offers a nuanced exploration of the historiography of the Revolution over the past six decades.

The Revolution from Within: Cuba, 1959–1980

By Michael J. Bustamante (editor), Jennifer L. Lambe (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Revolution from Within as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What does the Cuban Revolution look like "from within?" This volume proposes that scholars and observers of Cuba have too long looked elsewhere-from the United States to the Soviet Union-to write the island's post-1959 history. Drawing on previously unexamined archives, the contributors explore the dynamics of sociopolitical inclusion and exclusion during the Revolution's first two decades. They foreground the experiences of Cubans of all walks of life, from ordinary citizens and bureaucrats to artists and political leaders, in their interactions with and contributions to the emerging revolutionary state. In essays on agrarian reform, the environment, dance, fashion, and more, contributors…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Cuban Revolution, Cuba, and politics?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Cuban Revolution, Cuba, and politics.

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